Gov. Janet Mills recently released a 10-year plan for Maine’s economy, one that was put together by a panel of experts from government, non-profits, and the private sector. They took input from the public in a series of meetings across the state, as they considered what the biggest challenges would be for Maine’s economy over the next decade and how to address them. If all of that sounds impressive, it’s supposed to — that’s probably about how the Mills administration would describe its own efforts.

While it’s not uncommon for such documents to be rolled out with much fanfare, the reality is that these types of long-term plans are frequently drafted, but rarely implemented. Between term limits in Maine and the regular turnover in any democratic government, most of the politicians serving in office are unlikely to still be there 10 years from now. That certainly includes Gov. Mills, whose term will end in 2027 — if she’s re-elected. Those who do stick around are unlikely to regard this report as some sort of holy gospel, but instead as the latest in a series of reports that the Legislature mostly (if not completely) ignored.

Now, that’s not to say that government should completely disregard long-term planning, but we should take it with a grain of salt when they try. In the case of Mills’ plan, it’s worth noting that, though a variety of experts offered their input throughout the process, it wasn’t truly crafted by a non-partisan panel, but instead directly by the administration. That means, rather than being the unbiased opinion of experts, the document reflects the political goals and priorities of Gov. Mills. That’s clear throughout the document: There’s a lot of references to greater investment (i.e., government spending in one form or another), but almost none to tax cuts.

The document isn’t entirely devoid of worthwhile ideas just because it was crafted by a Democratic administration, however. It’s not a huge portion of the document, but the plan calls for a review of Maine’s regulatory processes. Regulatory reform is an area that’s seen bipartisan consensus in other states across the country, and it could be in Maine, as well. Certainly the idea of making it easier to start a business, with more government assistance rather than interference, makes a lot of sense. Republicans began these efforts when they were in the majority and had the Blaine House back in 2011, but there’s still work to be done in that area, so it’s nice to see a Democratic governor taking up the cause. Hopefully something productive can be done for regulatory reform in this next Legislative session.

Most of the document is less practical than that, unfortunately. Rather than focusing on structural reforms to address Maine’s economic challenges, the plan reads like a shopping list. Nearly every proposal offered would come with a significant, if not hefty, price tag. Moreover, there aren’t a lot of proposals involving any kind of tax reduction at all — the closest it gets to that is expanding the Educational Opportunity Tax Credit, and tax incentives for businesses. Neither of those are necessarily bad ideas, but they’re a far cry from any sort of general tax relief, either by cutting the income or sales tax or by encouraging property tax relief at the local level.

Last session, majority Democrats passed a budget that was a runaway freight train of spending, and Republicans did little but stand by and watch. They increased spending by almost a billion dollars, or 10 percent, to $7.98 billion for the biennium. This was an unnecessary, fiscally irresponsible increase in spending, but Democrats aren’t done yet. They are entering the new legislative session with a $120 million surplus, and rather than returning any of that money to the taxpayers, Democrats seem hell-bent on spending that and more, if Mills’ shopping list is any indication.

Right now, Republicans are making a lot of noise about resisting unnecessary new spending and tax increases. That makes perfect sense: we don’t have much of a budget surplus, but since we have one, tax increases shouldn’t be considered. If Democrats want to spend more money, it ought to come from the budget surplus or cuts in other areas, not from tax increases. Hopefully, without the threat of a government shutdown looming over their heads, this session the GOP can actually stick together and keep the Democrats from going on another spending spree.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: jimfossel


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